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Anne Sexton (1928-1974)

*THE TRUTH THE DEAD KNOW*

(For my mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my father, born February 1900, died June 1959)

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where they sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in their stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye, and knucklebone.



*THE STARRY NIGHT*

"That does not keep me from having a terrible need 
of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at 
night to paint the stars."
      —Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry night! This is how 
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.


WITH MERCY FOR THE GREEDY
                                                  for my friend Ruth,
   who urges me to make an appointment for the sacrament of Confession

Concerning your letter in which you ask
me to call a priest and in which you ask
me to wear The Cross that you enclose;
your own cross,
your dog-bitten cross,
no larger than a thumb,
small and wooden, no thorns, this rose—

I pray to its shadow,
that gray place 
where it lies on your letter . . . deep, deep.
I detest my sins and I try to believe
in The Cross. I touch its tender hips, its dark jawed face,
its solid neck, its brown sleep.

True. There is
a beautiful Jesus.
He is frozen to his bones like a chunk of beef.
How desperately he wanted to pull his arms in!
How desperately I touch his vertical and horizontal axes!
But I can't. Need is not quite belief.

All morning long
I have worn
your cross, hung with package string around my throat.
It tapped me lightly as a child's heart might,
tapping secondhand, softly waiting to be born.
Ruth, I cherish the letter you wrote.

My friend, my friend, I was born
doing reference work in sin, and born
confessing it. This is what poems are:
with mercy
for the greedy,
they are the tongue's wrangle,
the world's pottage, the rat's star.


buy Anne Sexton's poetry from amazon.com
The Anne Sexton Archive
Links to some of Sexton's poetry online
...because I am too lazy to do what someone else has already done.
Anne Sexton's Star
..ditto for this one

© Anne Sexton, 1962. From *All My Pretty Ones*.

Disclaimer: I have no permission from anyone to put this up on the Web. It is very possibly a complete violation of extant copyright law. However, I do have a life (although it may not be obvious to the casual onlooker), and typing all this up is a complete and utter labor of my unabashed hero worship for the person quoted above. So don't sue, please.


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